Boston’s unblemished start to the new NBA season came to an abrupt end on Monday night, as the team fell in defeat at the hands of the Chicago Bulls. Losing is part of the game. In an 82-game season, expecting to go undefeated is a fool's errand, and in truth, Boston had this coming to them.
Over their first four games of the season, the Celtics have flirted with fire by sacrificing their defensive principles for a high-octane offensive approach, but there has to be some balance. There’s no point in improving your offensive execution if your defense is going to suffer so drastically, just like there would be no point re-discovering your defensive intensity if it meant — and I quote LeBron James here — that you couldn’t hit a penny in the ocean.
“It’s no good being a top-10, top seven offensive team, and being a bottom five, bottom eight defensive team. And it’s no good being a top-4, top-10, whatever, defensive team while sucking on offense. If you go and look at like the Atlanta Hawks, they’re consistently one of the best offensive teams in the NBA, but they cannot stop you, you’re just gonna rain points on them, and they consistently fall short...Finding that balance...That’s where you are gonna find the money right now. And once Rob (Williams) comes back, that defense will inevitably increase that little bit and Rob’s rim running will allow you to keep that tempo going anyway,” I said on the October 25th edition of the CelticsPod podcast.
As things stand, Boston is currently ranked 2nd in offensive rating, and 24th in defensive rating — thus illustrating their lack of balance. Make no mistake, I’m not saying to sacrifice everything the Celtics have been doing good, but I’m also not saying to continue down the same road that they’re already on. There has to be a middle ground.
However, there’s no rush to figure these things out right away. We’re four games into an 82-game season, there’s plenty of basketball left to be played, and immeasurable growth this team can show.
“I’m just being honest – there’s 82 games plus the playoffs, there are going to be nights like this. You just wanna have, more often than not, you keep your composure because we’re all human,” Jayson Tatum said following Boston's first loss of the season.
Outside of the team’s porous defense, we got another glimpse at the young roster's lack of discipline — from Tatum’s technical foul for an act of petulance, to Joe Mazzulla and Grant Williams both getting ejected. You don’t get to the top of the NBA mountain without being incredibly competitive, and sometimes those emotions boil over, but while I do disagree with continually engaging the referees, at least Boston is showing some fire and fight.
“I know a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, he needs to become more mature, blah, blah, blah’. The dude’s, what, 24? You know what I’m saying? Like how mature was everybody else at 24? Are you not in your thirties right now playing pickup down at LA Fitness, getting upset when somebody fouls you?... Like, if someone fouls me, I’m calling foul, bro. So that’s my mentality. I’m in my thirties...If I play pickup and somebody fouls me, I’m like, ‘Yo, that’s a foul.’ And then there’s gonna be a discussion, a heated discussion. So, we’re getting upset at Tatum for doing exactly what everybody else is gonna do.”
Of course, Tatum is a borderline superstar, so controlling your emotions comes as part of the package...you’re a role model after all. Still, the bigger concern is how Boston got punched in the mouth for the first time this season and quickly fell back into old habits. You know, those high pick-and-rolls where everyone just stands around and watches the ball stick? Or when the three-point line is the defenses welcome mat, and you can’t help but take the invitation.
“I think one thing that bothered me the most was the fact that they let their offensive game dictate how they were gonna get back on defense. They started the game out hot. I mean, they had a 39-point first quarter. I think they went 8 of 10 from three, and then as soon as those shots stopped falling, they weren’t getting back in transition, they were giving up a lot of rebounds. In terms of defensive rebounds, the Bulls, I think edged them out 46 to 31,” Tim Sheils said during the podcast episode.
It might have only been one loss, and there will undoubtedly be others, but this feels like a learning moment, both for the Celtics and their coaching staff. Hopefully, a three-day gap between games will allow the team to work on some of their errors, and figure out where they can find ways to generate a more balanced approach to their upcoming games. Otherwise, we’re all in for a rollercoaster ride this season.